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Understanding Why Your Baby Get's Startled
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Understanding Why Your Baby Get's Startled

by Burrito Baby

Picture the scene: you are holding your 4 week old in your arms and they are finally asleep. You think to yourself this is the perfect opportunity to put bub in the bassinet so you can go to the toilet/have a rest/do some washing.
You are stealth, you are careful not to touch anything as you lay baby down.

Yes! You have managed it, mission accomplished baby is asleep in the bassinet.

You are feeling so proud of yourself, then the slightest noise and BAM! Baby is awake, arms flailing, crying at the top of her lungs.

All that effort undone in an instant.

This, my friends is the Moro Reflex, also known as the startle reflex. It is easy to spot as when baby is startled, his arms thrust out and his legs straighten and stiffen. It’s a perfectly normal part of development for the newborn and is present until around the 4 to 6 months of age. An absence of which can indicate neurological deficit, and needs to be looked at by a medical professional.

It’s the same feeling we sometimes have when we are asleep, and in our subconscious we are falling, and before we hit the ground our bodies jerk. Only in our case arms are not flailing and we manage not to cry.

Unfortunately for our babies, they do not possess that control over their bodies just yet.

What is it, and why is it present?

Simply put the Moro Reflex is the baby’s alarm reflex. It is a primitive response that babies have and is triggered when their immature senses get overloaded, for example by a sudden loud noise, bright lights, rough touch and even in a change in the way they are being held.

It is thought that this reflex has developed in human evolution as a protective mechanism to help baby cling to mum whilst she carried them all day and if baby lost their balance, the reflex caused baby to quickly grasp mum to prevent falling.

How do we stop it?

We don’t. It’s normal, but we can minimize it by a centuries old technique called Swaddling. In the womb babies are in a snug, protective environment and once baby arrives into the world we can recreate that by swaddling them. Some babies find comfort and are able to sleep better when we wrap them tightly, essentially mimicking the womb.

Here are some of the benefits to swaddling
  • Helps calm and comfort a fussy baby
  • Encourages longer sleep
  • Minimises the startle reflex
  • Recreates the snug like environment of the womb
  • Some research suggest that babies have a lower and stable heart rate
  • Soothes crying babies
  • Reduces incidences of SIDS – helps keep baby sleeping on their backs
  • Keeps them warm
  • Prevents baby from scratching their face
  • Makes it easier to hold baby and to transfer them from one set of arms to another

As a sleep consultant of course anything that can help improve the sleep of babies and their families is of interest to me and swaddling really is one of those techniques that has stood the test of time. It makes sense that making our babies feel safe by wrapping them mimicking womb like conditions helps to create that positive environment for sleeping.

As a mother myself I remember coming home with my daughter and not really having much of an idea how to swaddle, it always seemed to be a 2-person job and not an easy one at that!

We had muslin wraps coming out of our ears but they were either too small or too large with excess material requiring lots of folding and tucking in to get it to fit snugly which was laborious and it never was as tight as it should be and our Houdini always managed get one or all her limbs out, thus defeating the objective. How we would have loved a pre-made swaddle to take the guesswork out of it all. The Burrito Baby Essential Multiway pre-folded swaddle does exactly that. Takes the guesswork out of swaddling as it already comes pre-folded for you and has a handy glow in the dark print so you know you are placing bub correct way up when you are trying to put bub back to bed with minimal light. Most impressive though is that the fabric is nice and stretchy allowing to swaddle bub tighter for extra security and comfort and the material is huge so no need to look for different sized swaddles as bub grows, this one will be able to last for as long as you are swaddling bub!

Burrito Baby Swaddle

The times we did get it right swaddling was amazing as she was secure and calm which helped her to settle quickly and sleeping well for extended periods of time.

So my tips for you are to swaddle and swaddle early find one that works for you and your baby, stick with it and buy several!

Written by Rika Tuinier (RN)

Founder of Dreamy Sleep Solutions

I work with families of babies and children to help them sleep through the night… every night!

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